A 25-year-old Israeli woman who crossed into Syria flew into Ben Gurion Airport early Friday morning from Moscow accompanied by an Israeli delegation that included an Israeli delegation led by the chief of staff of the Prime Minister’s Office Asher Hayun, the coordinator for negotiating the return of POWs and MIAs Yaron Blum, representatives from the National Security Council and a doctor. It is expected that she will be debriefed by the Shin Bet security service. The Russian government helped negotiate the release.
The Syrian Arab News Agency (SANA) reported that the Israeli woman entered Syria’s Quneitra province by mistake and was taken into Syrian custody. Israeli officials declined to comment. Israeli media reported it was not her first attempt to cross the border, noting that she is a former resident of the ultra-Orthodox West Bank settlement of Modi’in Illit. Axios news site, citing Israeli officials, said she had studied Arabic and crossed the border into Syria and began conversing with the locals. said she had studied Arabic and in the past had been prevented from crossing the southern border into Gaza. She was arrested and taken for questioning by Syrian intelligence officers who quickly determined that she was not a spy and turned her over to the Russians in Syria. Axios reported that the Russian negotiators initially tried to broaden the discussions, asking Israel to restrain its airstrikes in Syria on the grounds that they make it more difficult to transport humanitarian aid. Axios also cited Israeli officials as saying she had previously been stopped trying to cross the border fence into Gaza.
In exchange for her release, Israel transferred to Syria two prisoners. One prisoner, Ziyab Qahmouz, was detained in 2016. Also identified in the media as Diab Kahamuz, he was serving a 14-year sentence for his role in a Hezbollah bomb plot. He apparently refused to be released, demanding instead that he be returned to his native village in the Golan Heights and not to Syria. As such, he remained in Israeli custody on Wednesday.
Israel also pardoned Israeli Druze prisoner Nihal al-Mkat who reportedly comes from a family that has had a number of members in Israeli prisons. She had been sentenced to three years in prison in 2020. The sentence was suspended and she had been under house arrest. Al-Mkat told Syrian media that she was asked by Israel to move to Damascus, a condition to put an end to her sentence. But she refused, and after Moscow’s mediation, was allowed to stay in her home in Majdl Shams, a village in the Golan.
It has been reported that Israel provided further compensation although the details of that are prohibited from publication. Prime Minister Netanyahu publicly thanked Russian President Vladimir Putin for helping engineer the deal, saying he had reached out to the leader for help.